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Smart Electric Grids and Microgrids

Lessons Learned and Pathways Forward

Featured Speaker: Dr. Massoud Amin

President of Energy Policy and Security Associates and

Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the

University of Minnesota

Sept 14 2023

Empowering Our Energy Future: Microgrids and the Smart Grid Transition

As we move toward a greener energy future, microgrids have emerged as game-changers in delivering reliable, secure and sustainable electric power. These microgrids are integral parts of our electric power system, made up of distributed generators, local renewable sources, smart devices, and specialized controls. They can work integrated with the main utility grid or as self-reliant systems.


In addition, to save energy, we're exploring smart ways to minimize AC/DC conversions while managing electricity effectively in places with various power sources, storage methods, and devices. At the heart of this change is the comeback of direct current (DC) electricity, which fits perfectly with various power sources and gadgets. Solar panels produce DC, batteries store it efficiently, and everyday devices like computers and variable-speed motors operate natively on DC power.


But our main electrical grid mostly uses alternating current (AC), so we need frequent AC-to-DC conversions to connect different sources and devices.


Microgrids: Champions of Green Energy?

Microgrids act as small, mostly self-sufficient power systems where possible, using green energy capacity efficiently and providing extra green energy when needed. We owe our affordable and reliable microgrids to advances in the integration of the distributed renewable generation, smarter and more secure control/automation methods and devices, advanced communication, better monitoring technology, improved demand prediction, and storage. These advances have brought significant changes in two main areas: how microgrids work together and how each microgrid is managed.


The Revamped Grid: A New Way Forward

In the last three decades, our power network has changed a lot, just like how the Internet transformed computing and communication networks. This new power network has:


1.   Millions of Active Points: Sensors, devices, and communication tools are now everywhere, from power generators and transmission/distribution lines to homes and appliances.


2.   Many Different Players: This includes businesses, homes, power and energy companies, governments, and regulators


3.   Facilities with Multiple Functions: Some places can generate their own power, store energy, and manage different devices, making them a perfect candidate for microgrids.



Microgrids: The Growing Trend

While microgrids only provide a small amount of the electricity in the U.S. right now, their numbers are going up. As of early 2023, there are 692 microgrids in the U.S. with a total capacity of almost 4.4 gigawatts. Over 212 of these microgrids, with a capacity of more than 419 MW, were built in the last four years. Worldwide, over 4,700 microgrid projects were finished by the end of 2022, adding up to about 30 GW of capacity.


Microgrid Challenges: Managing Energy and Staying Stable

Microgrids have unique challenges, like managing energy use. Microgrids have to control how much energy goes where to keep everything running smoothly. Energy storage is also super important for keeping the power steady, especially when solar and wind aren't producing enough.


In the end, smart energy transition needs lots of work, new tech, policy reform, public education and teamwork. Microgrids, both in the U.S. and around the world, are a big part of our greener energy future. Our cleaner energy future is within reach.



About the Speaker: Dr. Massoud Amin, IEEE and ASME Fellow, is president of Energy Policy and Security Associates, a professor emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor Award Recipient, at the University of Minnesota. He is widely credited as being the “father of the smart grid”, and a cyber-physical security leader, who led the development of 24 technologies transferred to industry and directed all security-related R&D for all North American utilities after the 9/11 tragedies. In fact, he was at a meeting less than a mile from the Pentagon, discussing disaster risk management with White House OSTP, U.S. DoD officials, and representative of other agencies when the terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001.

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